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How Much Does It Cost to Develop an App: Answers to All Your Concerns

Anastasia Osypenko, Market Researcher at MadAppGang
Anastasia Osypenko
Market Researcher

Setting the right budget is an essential part of your app development project. To estimate the expenses, you need to consider many factors regarding the app’s functionality and the type of team this functionality requires. Industry-specific nuances, choice of a platform, a desired level of customisation – all these also influence app development cost.

We’ll help you figure this whole mess out, answering the most common questions and concerns you have. At MadAppGang, we’ve been developing various challenging projects and can guide you through the price differences between an MVP and a fully-featured app.

Do You Need a Custom Solution?

Before anything else, you should understand if you need custom development. There are many white-label solutions and app builders crafted for specific industries: with them, you can have a pre-designed template with a limited number of functions and integrations. As we argued in our post on white-labelling fitness apps, it can work for small businesses that don’t need anything more than basic functionality.

If your app can solve the users’ problem with a minimum set of standard features, you can choose white-label or app builder which usually are based on a monthly subscription. In this case, read thoroughly about what kind of support and maintenance are provided and do your research on the existing applications made on this basis: learn if they had any problems with bug fixes or app store submissions. 

If, in contrast, you need an app fully tailored to your particular needs – with unusual screen types, individual designs, complex integrations with the third-party services – what you’re looking for is custom development. You need to find a team of passionate developers experienced in the field you’re interested in and cooperate with them on each phase of the process. To define custom app development cost, let’s start from how to define what professionals you need and how to find them.

Who Do You Need to Hire?

The most critical thing you need to understand is that it’s always better to hire a whole team and not separate developers. A team has (to put it better, should have) a well-established working environment with a unified methodology and streamlined processes. To know exactly how many people you need to be involved, consult with development companies, explaining what features are required and how fast you need them built.

Here’s the example of a team for making a medium-complexity application:

  • Project manager: a person who navigates the team work to deliver a quality product.
  • Two-four app developers: the number depends on the number of platforms, features’ complexity, and desired time-to-market.
  • Back-end developer: if your app will store any data (and it’s more than likely that it will), you need a backend. A backend developer ensures the data is generated, displayed, and synchronised correctly.
  • UI/UX designer: convenient navigation and intuitive interface are a must if you don’t want users to abandon the app. To find more about the importance of UI and UX, read our posts on fitness or healthcare app design (those are two app’s niches we specialise in).
  • QA engineer: testing should be applied at every stage of development to fix all the issues on time.
Hands of people passing dollars to each other against the background of monitors with graphs

Average hourly rates for these professionals are the following:

The table with average hourly rates of team members need to know to count how much to make an app


The Hiring Process

Now, as you get the picture of who you need to hire, the ‘how’ comes to the fore. Searching for app developers, you need to evaluate their:

  • Technical skills: fluency in the language (Kotlin and Java for Android, Swift for iOS), understanding of network protocols, system frameworks, and tools for integrating SDKs and APIs. At MadAppGang, we offer conducting technical interviews to select the best candidates of the required level.
  • Domain expertise: regardless of how skilled a developer is, they won’t be the right fit without relevant experience. Focus on those who already know the nuances of the chosen domain – this way, you’ll be better prepared for typical challenges and the implementation will go gaster.
Designer with phone and pencil in hand creates mobile app design

  • Soft skills: you might want to know how developers act in problematic situations, how they manage their time, communicate within a team, and adapt to changes. For time-consuming app projects, soft skills may be even more important than technical capabilities.

Hiring In-House vs. Outsourcing

You can choose between hiring developers in-house and finding outsourcing companies. While the latter might be a cheaper option, the former allows for better connection and engagement.

Comparison table to help choose between hiring developers in-house and finding outsourcing companies

Want to know more about the dos and don’ts of hiring developers? Wondering how to detect if the process is going right? Check these articles out:

How to Hire a Mobile App Developer: All the Dos and a Few of the Dont's

Six Reasons Why You Should Fire Your Mobile App Development Company

Golang Outsourcing: How It Works

How Much Do App Developers Cost?

Finally, we’ve reached the point where we’re going to discuss the exact numbers. Your app development cost will largely depend on how much each hired professional is paid per hour.

According to Codementor research, the current developer hourly rates globally are the following:

The table included developer hourly rates globally

As for the platforms, there’s no significant difference between iOS and Android developer rates. For example, in the US, no platform wins in terms of bigger average salary: both iOS and Android developers earn from 70,000 to 130,000 per year depending on their level and experience.

Different Approaches to Cost Estimation

While many companies and individual developers will estimate your project in hours, we at MadAppGang rely on sprint planning. Sprint is a finished cycle of development and an example of an iteration in the Agile methodology. You can learn more about step-by-step app development process.

Dollar sign on mobile phone screen with pipes around it

If you go for a team that works accordingly to Agile, you can learn how much making an app costs based on one sprint estimation. This is the approach where you can adjust the process of development reviewing the functionality implemented at each sprint: it gives you control and flexibility but it won’t give you the guaranteed budget limit you won’t exceed. If you have a limited sum you can invest, discuss it with a team and prioritise the features that can be brought to life within your budget for making an app.

What Type of App Do You Want to Create?

There are many categories of apps like social, travel, business, utility etc. App development cost will depend on the category greatly as the category defines the essential features and their complexity. For example, a vocabulary type of app that has static information and search without login is way simpler than a gaming app that generates teams of registered users and saves their progress.

Designer's hand drawing mobile app design in notepad

Categories we have the most experience in include restaurants and food services, logistics and transportation, fitness, and healthcare. For the industry-specific example of price estimation, read our post on the cost of developing a healthcare app, or mobile app development for real estate, or explore the value of developing a job portal app. You may be wondering how to develop a messaging app or how much it costs to develop a travel app. The MadAppGang team also has a comprehensive guide to creating a video editing app and can guide you through the steps to creating a successful social media application.

After you decide on your app idea, what problem it has to solve, and what category it belongs to, you need to write down all the features that you:

  • Must have: the features your app won’t perform what it’s supposed to. For instance, in a taxi app, those are user login, cost calculator, location tracking, in-app chat, billing, orders history, and notifications.
  • Should have: the features that enhance your app but can be added after the launch. Taking the same taxi example, this can be a loyalty program with points given as rewards for each ride.
  • Could have: the features that can be a nice addition or a competitive advantage – like voiced controls.
  • Won’t have: the features that won’t bring any value to users. For example, many fitness apps designed for activity tracking expand their functionality to the point where they add the whole array of unnecessary things that distract users from the app’s main purpose – like the blog feed feature displayed on the MyFitnessPal’s main screen without the option to be disabled.

Easy-to-Build and Heavy-Weight Features

When you have a set of features you want to implement, prioritise them for developers to build the process starting from the essentials. How much time and money it will take depends on how demanding the features are. Let’s look at some common features with regard to their complexity:

The table with some common features of mobile applications with regard to their complexity

Hidden Costs

Some expenses might not be obvious from the beginning and significantly increase your overall cost. However, an experienced team should explain those to you during the early estimation.

For example, securing your application with practices like data encryption will require an additional team member. There are also many ongoing expenses that will come after the app’s launch: regular app stores fee, charges by third-party APIs and payment gateways, bug fixes etc. Plan your budget considering that development itself may be less than half of the app costs during the first two years.

Where Do You Want to Release Your App?

Explore the app market tendencies in your target region: how successful are mobile apps of your category on Google Play and Apple App Store? Learn how many users download similar apps on both platforms and how different monetization strategies work. For example, there could be a wider reach among Android users but more possibilities to earn money on iOS.

Differences between iPhone and Android App Development

Considering the fragmentation of Android-powered devices, developing and testing an app for this platform is more time-consuming and costly. Moreover, Android testing emulator tends to be slower than iOS simulator. On the other hand, Apple App Store is way more strict while submitting applications, and this process may cost more than expected.

Deciding on the platform, it’s not the Android vs. iOS development process you need to consider but the audience and user behaviour. Android and iOS are dominant in different markets and utilise different monetisation strategies. For example, it’s more advantageous to build an Android app for Asian markets and an iOS app for North America. Interestingly, Australians use the platforms almost equally.

You can start developing an application on both platforms at the same time. Although, there’s a thought that it’s better to make one app first and than expand to another platform. As a 2017 Clutch survey shows, the majority of investments go to native app development.

How Do You Want to Build Your App? Native vs. Cross-Platform Development

If you do decide to make both iOS and Android applications, there are two ways: make two separate apps with different teams or adopt a cross-platform approach. With the latter option, you’ll need to find developers familiar with the latest cross-platform tools such as Flutter or React Native. 

What approach is more beneficial? It’s up to you to decide but consider the following:

Comparison table of native and cross-platform development

Reusable components on which a cross-platform approach relies allow for faster development and design and easier maintenance. A research2guidance global survey revealed that cross-platform development can save as much as 30 per cent of time, which also means significant cost savings. However, you won’t be able to make every visual and functional element unique for each platform and device. Native development can also be performed quite fast: learn how we managed to deliver an app’s MPV in six weeks.

It may work to start from cross-platform development to create an app prototype or even an MVP for certain types of apps such as marketplaces. When the app succeeds and requires expansion, transition it to the native codebase. 

This is what Airbnb decided to do: React Native development allowed them to move faster as an organization and gain recognition but they realized the failure in achieving other goals and moved towards native frameworks in 2018. While they wanted to reuse the code thanks to a cross-platform approach, they ended up writing three codes and facing troubles with bug monitoring and slow initialization. Some valuable aspects of cross-platform development like a unified design system were taken by the Airbnb team as the top learnings that helped them make native apps better.

What Is the App Development Process?

  • Discovery: to finalise your app’s idea and shape the right development plan, you need to execute the discovery phase, learning and interviewing your end users and exploring the market and major competitors. 70 per cent of firms admitted the importance of this stage and for the majority of them, discovery costed up to $5,000. After the discovery stage, you will have technical and business requirements, the scope of development, and cost estimation. While this process takes time, it’s actually a time-saving move because if the project’s requirements are not clearly defined, you are more likely to overrun on schedule and budget.
  • Development, testing, and design: those are parts of one process that should run along with each other and in strong cooperation.
Schematic illustration of a mobile app developer
  • Maintenance: servers, data storage, third-party libraries and services (if used) need ongoing maintenance. The annual cost will take approximately 20 % of the development budget. Plus, add the same 20 % more for annual bug fixes.
  • Marketing: there are plenty of strategies to adopt like store optimization or influencer marketing. Any solid growth plan will start from $10,000.

An average development cost is a quite wide range starting at $100,000 and ending with $1,000,000. Despite the variety of development and app design cost calculators, there’s no way of getting a precise estimation just based on the app’s idea, and even during the process, there can be many changes that will impact the price. To learn how much money do you need to start an app, describe your concept to us and we will take it from there.

29 October 2020